A question I get asked pretty regularly is: “so, if I hire a lawyer, does that mean I’m going to trial?” In injury cases, the answer is “probably not.”
In Montana, the statute of limitations for negligence is 3 years. This means that, in most injury cases, a person has three years before they must file a lawsuit in court. This also means that the first stage of the case is for us, the lawyers, to negotiate with the insurance company BEFORE anything gets filed in court. Most of the cases we sign up for are settled in this stage.
“In Montana … an injured party has 3 years from the date the lawsuit is filed to actually serve the Complaint…”
If the case is obviously not going to settle, or we are approaching the 3-year mark, we file the lawsuit. In Montana state courts an injured party has 3 years from the date the lawsuit is filed to actually serve the Complaint on the defendant. Sometimes this means that we are able to continue negotiating with an insurance company even after the lawsuit is filed.
The second stage of a case starts when the Complaint is served on the defendant. That’s typically when the insurance company will hire a lawyer. This is where the injured party generally has to answer written questions called Interrogatories, gets his/her deposition taken and we get ready for trial. We call this the “active litigation” stage. But even if a case is in active litigation, this does not mean the case will actually go to trial. Even of the cases that get into active litigation, about 95-98% still settle before trial.
Finally, for the 2-5% of cases that cannot settle, there is a trial. Trials are a life and post of their own, so I won’t dwell on them now, but suffice it to say, if there are irregularities in the pre-trial rulings or trial, the parties may appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. The chances of having to take a case up on appeal after it’s been through trial are even rarer than just going to trial.
Even though the chances of a case going to trial are slim, we are serious about all our cases and prepare every case as if it will go to trial. That means we are contacting witnesses, figuring out facts, and talking with our clients often and early in the case’s journey. This is part of the reason we get to know our clients so well and it might be part of the reason why we try so few cases.
So, there you have it, the journey a person may expect in an injury case.